No. 11 Kansas State: Is a return to the Elite 8 in the cards?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 11 Kansas State.


Bruce Weber entered the 2017-18 season on the hot seat and, frankly, nothing about the way that the regular season played out changed that fact.

The Wildcats finished the regular season at 21-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big 12, earning themselves a bid to the NCAA tournament in large part due to the fact that they beat up on the bottom of a Big 12 that was really deep; nine Big 12 teams were on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

Kansas State lost all seven games they played against the top three teams in the league — Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Their best non-conference win came against a Georgia team that fired their head coach. They didn’t beat a single Big 12 team that finished above .500 in league play.

Sneaking into the tournament as a No. 9 seed seemed like a gift awarded to the Wildcats because they played in a conference that boosted their computer numbers.

And then the NCAA tournament happened.

Despite essentially playing without Dean Wade, Kansas State knocked off Creighton in the first round, ended the Cinderella run of UMBC in the second round and then picked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16 to get within 40 minutes of the Final Four. Loyola-Chicago ended that dream, but the expectations were set.

Kansas State returns every single member of a team that won 25 games and played in the Elite 8.

This will be the most highly-regarded team that Weber has had entering a season in Manhattan.

And in a way, this may be the most pressure he’s ever had to win.

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KANSAS STATE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

This team has the three components that you look for in a good college basketball team.

For starters, the Wildcats really do have good guard play. Barry Brown is the name that you need to know. A tough, 6-foot-3 lead guard, Brown is a 195-pound bowling ball when he decides he wants to get to the rim. He is also a tenacious defender — he hounded Trae Young twice last season — and was the forgotten man in a conference that was absolutely stacked at the point guard spot a year ago. If he learns how to make consistently threes, Brown will be a first-team all-Big 12 player this season and a potential second round pick in June.

Kamau Stokes will help to lessen the playmaking load on Brown, and he is also a sparkplug offensively, a dynamic scorer that can pop off for 25 points. Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are floor-spacers and versatile wings that are tough enough to let the Wildcats play super-small at times. Throw in Mike McGuirl — a sophomore that burned his redshirt when Stokes was injured last season only to drop 17 points on Creighton in the first round of the NCAA tournament — and the Wildcats have a ton of guard depth.

And the best part about all that guard depth is that they all can defend. As a team, the Wildcats finished 21st nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They get killed on the glass — that’s what happens when you play four guys that are 6-foot-5 or shorter for extended minutes — but they make up for it by running teams off of the three-point line and forcing turnovers with their ball pressure.

So we have a team with really good guard play that can really defend.

The last piece of the puzzle?

Dean Wade.

This is not a name that many people nationally are going to be all that familiar with. He saw limited minutes in Kansas State’s tournament run after suffering a foot injury in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals, and he spent last season playing in a league where he was in the shadow of Kansas, Trae Young, Press Virginia and Texas Tech’s rise. But this kid can play. He’s 6-foot-10 but shoots 44 percent from three. He can pass the ball, he can move without the ball and he can play the four or the five. If you don’t want to believe me, this is what Mo Bamba had to say about him:

“I’d say one of the toughest players that I played against as far as just scouting, like, this was the first player that I looked at as far as tendencies and seeing what he does, is [Kansas State’s] Dean Wade. I’m not sure if you guys are familiar with him, but he’s really good. He’s super talented. He’s about 6-9 but can really move, and it was a challenge defensively.”

I like it when the dots connect, and, on this Kansas State team, all the dots connect.

It’s hard to see them being a total bust this year.

Dean Wade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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BUT KANSAS STATE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

Outside of those three wins in March, Kansas State did nothing that would lead us to believe that they are going to be good enough to be a top 10-15 team in college basketball this season.

They lost seven games to Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech last season by an average of 16 points. Their only win over a Big 12 team that finished .500 in league play came when they beat TCU at home, and even that may not technically count; the Horned Frogs went 9-9 in the regular season and then lost their Big 12 tournament opener to Kansas State, dropping them to 9-10 against league foes on the year.

The Wildcats beat Georgia during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and that came just two months before Georgia fired head coach Mark Fox. They beat Vanderbilt and Washington State. The best thing you can say about Kansas State’s regular season is that they didn’t lose at home against anyone outside of the top three in the league, and they managed to pick off Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road.

Which is fine.

In a year where the Big 12 was as deep as it was, that’s enough to get into the NCAA tournament.

But if the Wildcats hadn’t advanced to the Elite 8 — hell, if they had lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, capping their tournament run at wins over a No. 8 and a No. 16 seed — I’m not sure they’d have the hype they currently have heading into this season …

THE X-FACTOR

… which is why the x-factor for Kansas State isn’t so much what they are capable of but rather how they will handle the burden that comes with being targeted.

There are three or four names that can make the claim of being the second-best team in the Big 12 this season, and Kansas State — along with West Virginia, TCU and maybe even Iowa State — are right there in the mix. They are going to enter the season with a very high ranking next to their name. Every game they play, from their opener against Kennesaw State to their trip to the Paradise Jam to a visit to Marquette to a game against Kansas in the Octagon of Doom, will be one of, if not the biggest game that their opponent is going to play.

We’ve seen teams struggle with this before.

Just last season, Northwestern followed up their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament with a preseason top 20 ranking and a disastrous season that left them utterly irrelevant by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around.

There’s another side of this as well.

Bruce Weber is an underrated coach. He gets a lot of stick for what he’s been able to accomplish since he arrived in Manhattan, and I don’t think that it is entirely warranted. This is also his seventh season at Kansas State, and the Wildcats have yet to come close to matching what he accomplished in his first season — a 27-8 record, a 14-4 mark in the Big 12 and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Prior to last year’s Elite 8 run, he had been to just two tournaments in the last four years and was 0-3 in the Big Dance in his Kansas State tenure.

Barry Brown (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I say all that to say this: The truth is that a coach never really gets off of the hot seat. Once a fan base decides that they want a coach gone, that coach is always one season — hell, one game — away from having people calling for his job. Ask Tom Crean about this.

Seeing how Weber will handle any disappoints, especially those that come early in the season, will be fascinating. The Kansas State fanbase is very well aware of the fact that missing out on Brad
Underwood, an alumnus and a former Frank Martin assistant that has twice changed jobs in the last 30 months, may mean missing out on an elite head coach that would have a reason to wind down his career with them.

The hype for this Kansas State team is very real — we have them 11th nationally, and that likely won’t be an outlier — even if there is a chance the team may not be.

What will happen if the Wildcats end up being closer to a borderline top 25 team than a borderline top 10 team? Will Weber be able to get this team to continue to perform if they don’t live up to expectations they had no part in creating?

And will that end up being his ultimate downfall?

Kansas State is one of the most interesting teams to follow this season.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

I think Kansas State will be just fine.

They might not end up being the second-best team in the Big 12, but I don’t see anyway they aren’t right there with the two or three teams that are chasing Kansas. They might not end up being a top two or three seed heading into the NCAA tournament, but I have a hard team seeing them fall past the No. 5-seed line.

This is a veteran group with March experience that defends, that has tough guards and that has two first-team all-Big 12-caliber players, including a potential all-american in Dean Wade.

There floor is quite high, even if there isn’t necessarily a Final Four-ceiling with this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.